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By Todd South
Chattanooga Times Free Press

CHARLESTON, Tenn. - For a few years the 10th Judicial District Drug Task Force had problems with its directors that left some unwilling to work with the group.
First, former Director Ken Wilson was charged with possession of cocaine in 2002 and investigators later discovered large amounts of missing drug evidence. The next director, Roxanne Blackwell, was fired after poor evidence handling gave the task force a black eye. Ms. Blackwell did not face any criminal charges.
Then newly elected District Attorney Steven Bebb promoted Mike Hall to the position in 2006.
"I can sleep at night with Mike Hall as director of the drug task force," Mr. Bebb said.
Mr. Hall is a giant of a man. The 6-foot, 9-inch tall former Lee University basketball player towers over most people.
Along with his stature, the pistol and badge on his belt intimidate drug offenders in the 10th Judicial District, where he directs a team of 16 on the drug task force that covers more than 1,800 square miles and about 208,000 people.
Despite his stature, Mr. Hall's easygoing nature wins many over and shows his gentle giant side.
The drug task force covers Bradley, McMinn, Monroe and Polk counties and was named the state's top drug task force in 2007 by the Tennessee Narcotics Officers' Association.
Within weeks of taking over, Mr. Hall reorganized key areas of operations, Mr. Bebb said, and two big changes were money handling procedures and evidence inventory.
"There are three things that get people in trouble -- guns, drugs and money," Mr. Hall said.
Shortly after becoming director, Mr. Hall brought evidence into the storage room after making a drug bust.
His eyes open wide when he describes what he saw -- piles of evidence, drugs, paraphernalia, money and paperwork stacked atop each other on the floor of the storage room.
That's when the usually calm Mr. Hall had enough.
"I called the whole staff in and said, 'We're not leaving here tonight until this is fixed,'" he said.
Now the room is caged in iron bars and tagged bags and envelopes of evidence fill gray plastic tubs lined in neat rows on a shelves.
Outside the door a computer tracking system with bar-code scanner has each evidence bag's information -- who collected it, when, where, which case and contents -- a few keystrokes away.
As for the money, Mr. Hall wanted it out of his hands.
Supervisors sign out cash for operations and once it's in their possession it's their responsibility, he said.
Fixing those procedures were just the beginning of establishing a good relationship with area police and sheriff's departments, Mr. Hall said.
Most of the attention-grabbing work on the task force are big busts by interdiction teams on Interstate 75, a popular pipeline for drug traffic into and out of Atlanta. The task force seized 600 pounds of marijuana February in one I-75 stop.
The more long-term, local drug work that ferrets out dealers in the district is successful only with good communication among the task force and local police agencies.
McMinn County Sheriff Steve Frisbie, a task force board member, said the task force helps his 20-deputy department.
"If I need them to go somewhere in the county where I don't have enough manpower, then I can direct them where I need them," Sheriff Frisbie said.
In March the task force gave back $450,000 to nine different departments, the first such give-back in task force history, Mr. Hall said.
McMinn County received $50,000 from the task force, an amount Sheriff Frisbie said would go a long way toward improving department equipment.
"This particular task force works a lot in Bradley County," said Bradley County Sheriff Tim Gobble, also a member of the task force board.
Sheriff Gobble said the task force and his department's drug unit share information.
New procedures, shared resources and an agreeable personality at the top have given the task force an improved image among its law enforcement partners.
"In certain parts of our district the drug task force was not welcome," Mr. Bebb said. "Mike's changed all that."

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